Evolution of low HER2 expression between early and advanced-stage breast cancer

Published:January 13, 2022DOI:


      • HER2-low expression is emerging as an actionable biomarker in breast cancer.
      • HER2 IHC score increased from primary to metastatic tumour in 44% of the patients.
      • HER2-low to HER2-zero evolution was observed in 22% of the patients.
      • HER2-low expression is dynamic and may be enriched in the advanced-stage setting.



      Low human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) expression is emerging as an actionable biomarker for the treatment of breast cancer (BC) with novel anti-HER2 drugs. However, the evolution of this biomarker during the course of disease is still poorly characterised, and controversial data exist on its prognostic implications.


      We reviewed data of patients with HER2-negative BC according to the latest ASCO/CAP guidelines referred between January 2014 and December 2020. We grouped patients based on the immunohistochemistry (IHC) expression of HER2, HER2-zero (IHC 0) and HER2-low subgroup (IHC 1+ or 2+/ISH-negative) and evaluated the evolution of HER2 expression between the primary tumour and the first biopsy collected in the advanced setting. Disease-free survival, overall survival and progression-free survival were compared between patients with HER2-zero and HER2-low expression on the primary tumour.


      232 patients were included in the analysis. Among the overall population, there was a relevant discordance in HER2 expression between the primary tumour and the matched biopsy (K = 0.33, 95%CI 0.21–0.44): 44% of the HER2-zero primary tumour showed an increased HER2 score on biopsy, and 22% of the HER2-low primary tumours turned into HER2-IHC 0. The findings in the sub-populations of hormone-receptors positive (K = 0.32, 95%CI 0.19–0.45) and triple-negative tumours (K = 0.18, 95%CI -0.09-0.46) were consistent with the primary analysis. No difference in survival outcomes was observed between HER2-low and HER2-zero primary tumours.


      HER2-low expression is dynamic in BC and may be enriched in the advanced-stage setting. No prognostic significance was demonstrated for HER2-low expression.


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